New brain research suggests eating disorders impact brain function

Bulimia nervosa is a severe eating disorder associated with episodic binge eating followed by extreme behaviors to avoid weight gain such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise. It is poorly understood how brain function may be involved in bulimia.

A new study led by Guido Frank, MD, assistant professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Director, Developmental Brain Research Program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, studied the to a dopamine related reward-learning task in bulimic and healthy women. Dopamine is an important or neurotransmitter that helps regulate behavior such as learning and motivation. Frank found that bulimic women had weakened response in that are part of the reward circuitry. This response was related to the frequency of binge/purge episodes. Overeating and purging episodes thus could cause such a weaker response and set off a vicious cycle of altered .

These findings are important for several reasons. First, they directly implicate the brain reward system and related dopamine function in this disorder. Second, bulimic behavior appears to directly affect function and it is uncertain whether such alterations return to normal with recovery or not. Third, brain dopamine could be a treatment target in bulimia nervosa using specific medication that targets those abnormalities.

"This is the first study that suggests that brain dopamine related reward circuitry, pathways that modulate our drive to eat, may have a role in bulimia nervosa. We found reduced activation in this network in the bulimic women, and the more often an individual had binge/purge episodes the less responsive was their brain. That suggests that the eating disorder behavior directly affects brain function. These findings are important since the brain dopamine neurotransmitter system could be an important treatment target for bulimia nervosa," said Frank.

This study was published in Biological Psychiatry June 28, 2011.

Provided by University of Colorado Denver

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

May 20, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of ...

Professor identifies new eating disorder

Sep 04, 2007

A University of Iowa professor is making a case for a new eating disorder she calls purging disorder. The disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that both syndromes involve eating, then trying to compensate for the calories. ...

Researchers find 'switch' for brain's pleasure pathway

Mar 22, 2006

Amid reports that a drug used to treat Parkinson's disease has caused some patients to become addicted to gambling and sex, University of Pittsburgh researchers have published a study that sheds light on what may have gone ...

Recommended for you

Intervention program helps prevent high-school dropouts

Oct 24, 2014

New research findings from a team of prevention scientists at Arizona State University demonstrates that a family-focused intervention program for middle-school Mexican American children leads to fewer drop-out rates and ...

Bilingualism over the lifespan

Oct 24, 2014

It's a scene that plays out every day in Montreal. On the bus, in schools, in the office and at home, conversations weave seamlessly back and forth between French and English, or one of the many other languages represented ...

User comments